What are the factors which stipulate habitualness which is usually conveyed in English by the present simple? For example,

1 He builds houses. She works as a manager. I go to college.


2 I am reading War and Peace. I am building a house. I am studying economics.

If we look at the aforementioned actions in the light of real physical universe, we will see that they can take the same amount of time.

Actions 2 may last as long as actions 1 in reality. Plus, "I go to college" clearly indicates that the action is going to end (as a rule). People, usually, don't go to school, college etc. all their life.

So, why do English speaking people say "I go to college" instead of "I am going to college" if it's clearly understood that "going to college is a temporary action"? /Maybe you will say: because it happens almost every day./ OK. But why do English speaking people not say then "I read war and peace."? Or, why is it not right to say "Today, I call all my friends and wish them all the best". It's a repetitive action which is habitual in terms of one day.

I hope I have managed to get my point across.

1 Answer 1


You are right that one use of the present simple is to talk about habitual actions. In such cases there is often an an adverbial that explicitly indicates habitualness:

  • I go for a run every day.
  • She always brushes her teeth before breakfast.
  • What do you usually do on Sundays? - I get up late and then go for a run.

Another use of the present simple is to state what could be described as facts without any implication of habitualness. Such facts include world truths like:

  • Water boils at 100°C.

but also statements such as:

  • He builds houses. She works as a manager. I go to college.

The above statements are akin to saying:

  • He is a builder. She is a manager. I am a student.

The continuous aspect, by contrast, is used to focus less on the simple fact and more on the ongoing nature of the action. So in I am building a house and I am studying economics the emphasis is on the present and ongoing action.

The statement I read War and Peace can be interpreted as a habitual action or a simple fact. For example, in answer to the question: How do you send yourself to sleep?

But if you are talking about an action in progress, either at this moment or in the current period of time, then it needs to be:

  • I'm reading War and Peace.

There is some slipperiness in concepts such as permanence, simple facts, and habitual/ongoing action. But they do help understand the basic usage differences between the present simple and present continuous.

  • Yeah, I am concerned with "the current period of time". It's a vague idea. "I go to college" is a habitual action. but "I am studying economics" is on-going. However, in practice they cover the same amount of time, say, 4-5 years. So, why don't we say "I am going to college" to mean "I go to college"?
    – user1425
    Oct 16, 2020 at 9:38
  • 1
    I interpret I go to college as wanting to express the simple fact of being a student rather than a habitual action of going there every day. But whatever the interpretation, in both cases the present simple is the usual form. You could use the continuous form in the following context: I'm going to college every day, but I think a lockdown is coming soon. This emphasises the ongoing and non-permanent nature of the action.
    – Shoe
    Oct 16, 2020 at 10:01
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    It might be helpful to quote Lewis in his chapter on the present continuous form in The English Verb (p85): 'We need to remember that this form is technically not a tense, but an aspect. Aspects give the speaker's temporal interpretation of the event. They do not refer to real time, but to psychological time - to the speaker's perception of the temporal quality of the event'.
    – Shoe
    Oct 16, 2020 at 10:02

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